Born a slave in 1850s South Carolina and elected to Congress in the 1890s, George W. Murray appeared to be the antithesis of the African American male in the Jim Crow South and served as a beacon for African Americans who saw their hopes crushed in the aftermath of the Civil War. Early in the twentieth century, however, tragically defeated by corrupt Reconstruction politics and white supremacist attitudes he could not escape, Murray was driven from office and from the state. Drawing on extensive research to reconstruct Murray's life story, Marszalek defines an age and its people through the compelling battle of one man and shows how and why the nation's efforts to reconstruct the South into a biracial democracy failed. Murray's career, which spanned a quarter of a century, included two terms in the U.S. House of Representatives and leadership of South Carolina's Republican party. He was an investor as well as a landed property owner who sold tracts to poor blacks in order for them to qualify to vote. But by the beginning of the twentieth century, with his party in shambles, he found himself on trial for alleged forgery in a land deal with two of his black land purchasers.
Murray was found guilty, and the South Carolina Supreme Court upheld the verdict. Sentenced to hard labor on a chain gang, he escaped to Chicago where he spent the rest of his life in obscurity.
John F. Marszalek is Giles Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History at Mississippi State University. He has published widely on Jacksonian America, the Civil War, and race relations, including Court Martial: A Black Man in America, which became a made-for-television movie and was republished as Assault at West Point.
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